A common misconception among writers is that getting picked up by a traditional publisher is the only way that they will be able to afford to publish their work. The publishing landscape is shifting fast as new technologies become more widely accessible. More and more people are able to share their work with the world through different channels and self-publishing is becoming a more viable option for many writers to become published authors. However, for those wishing to pursue traditional publishing, it pays to take a close look at the costs that traditional publishing houses expect their authors to pick up.
The Payout in Traditional Publishing
In traditional publishing, when a publishing house decides to work with an author, they pay a certain amount of money to buy the rights to the work. This payment is an advance on the royalties that the publishing house is predicting that the book will earn in book sales after it is published. An advance can range greatly, and the amount an author is paid will depend in part on how well known they already are. According to Well Storied, advances for a debut author can range from $1000 for a new author to $15,000 dollars. That sounds great! However, keep in mind that this amount is deducted from the royalties an author will earn once their book is in circulation. That means to start earning royalties, if an advance of $5,000 dollars has been paid, the book often will need to have sold over $50,000.
Lower Royalties in the Long Run
In self-publishing, authors invest the start-up cost for publishing their book. This means that they also retain 100% rights to their work and they can earn higher royalties.
Royalties in traditional publishing are significantly lower than self-publishing. In traditional publishing, 15% of royalties typically go to the literary agent, 30-40% go to the bookstore, and the publishing house will take a cut, often leaving the author with about a 5-10% royalty on physical books and 30-40% on eBooks. In self-publishing, authors can earn much higher royalties: after the cost of printing the book, they can earn 90% royalty on book sales they sell themselves or 60-70% on books that are sold through bookstores.
Securing a Literary Agent
One of the first steps in traditionally publishing a book is to secure a literary agent who will represent you and your book. Literary agents look for authors who have a significant following on social media or some type of celebrity because these are both factors that will help when it comes time to predict book sales and to market the book effectively. This is why building an author’s platform is so important for both traditionally published and self-published authors. A literary agent is another cost of traditionally publishing your book, as they are taking a cut of royalties from book sales as well.
Costs Associated with Marketing Your Book
Many people feel overwhelmed by the prospect of having to take on all of the marketing efforts to publicize their book, and while a traditional publisher does lend some clout and budget to the marketing effort (depending on which publishing house), after six months to a year your title goes from being a “frontlist” or new title to a “backlist” title. Note that only the best-selling backlist titles remain on bookstores shelves.
Moreover, the vast majority of a traditional publisher’s marketing budget goes to their “A-list” titles, leaving little for lesser-known authors and their books.
With both traditional and self-publishing alike, you as the author will have a responsibility in marketing your book once you have published it or delegating some of the marketing tasks. Do not underestimate the importance of seriously considering and budgeting for the marketing efforts of your book.
Self-publishers understand the particular marketing needs of authors and they can assist authors in designing a personalized and cost-effective marketing strategy. Choose a self-publisher that offers an array of marketing services.
Time Is Money
Finally, consider the time involved in publishing your book. Traditional publishing is an undeniably long process: from the time your manuscript is accepted, it can take anywhere from one year up to as long as five years for your title to be released!
Think seriously about when you want to start your writing career and the cost-benefit of being able to get started in as little as 30 days with some self-publishers. This is a huge difference in terms of when you can start your career as an author to sell your book, go on a book tour, and start doing book signings.
Weigh Your Options
Whether you decide to self or traditionally publish your book, there are costs associated with both types of publishing. Do your research and make your budget so that you are prepared for the path that you choose to embark on.